I. General Approaches
There are two general approaches you can take when writing an outline for your paper:
The topic outline consists of short phrases. This approach is useful when you are dealing with a number of different issues that could be arranged in a variety of different ways in your paper. Due to short phrases having more content than using simple sentences, they create better content from which to build your paper.
The sentence outline is done in full sentences. This approach is useful when your paper focuses on complex issues in detail. The sentence outline is also useful because sentences themselves have many of the details in them needed to build a paper and it allows you to include those details in the sentences instead of having to create an outline of short phrases that goes on page after page.
II. Steps to Making the Outline
A strong outline details each topic and subtopic in your paper, organizing these points so that they build your argument toward an evidence-based conclusion. Writing an outline will also help you focus on the task at hand and avoid unnecessary tangents, logical fallacies, and underdeveloped paragraphs.
- Identify the research problem. The research problem is the focal point from which the rest of the outline flows. Try to sum up the point of your paper in one sentence or phrase. It also can be key to deciding what the title of your paper should be.
- Identify the main categories. What main points will you analyze? The introduction describes all of your main points; the rest of your paper can be spent developing those points.
- Create the first category. What is the first point you want to cover? If the paper centers around a complicated term, a definition can be a good place to start. For a paper about a particular theory, giving the general background on the theory can be a good place to begin.
- Create subcategories. After you have followed these steps, create points under it that provide support for the main point. The number of categories that you use depends on the amount of information that you are trying to cover. There is no right or wrong number to use.
Once you have developed the basic outline of the paper, organize the contents to match the standard format of a research paper as described in this guide.
III. Things to Consider When Writing an Outline
- There is no rule dictating which approach is best. Choose either a topic outline or a sentence outline based on which one you believe will work best for you. However, once you begin developing an outline, it's helpful to stick to only one approach.
- Both topic and sentence outlines use Roman and Arabic numerals along with capital and small letters of the alphabet arranged in a consistent and rigid sequence. A rigid format should be used especially if you are required to hand in your outline.
- Although the format of an outline is rigid, it shouldn't make you inflexible about how to write your paper. Often when you start investigating a research problem [i.e., reviewing the research literature], especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you should anticipate the likelihood your analysis could go in different directions. If your paper changes focus, or you need to add new sections, then feel free to reorganize the outline.
- If appropriate, organize the main points of your outline in chronological order. In papers where you need to trace the history or chronology of events or issues, it is important to arrange your outline in the same manner, knowing that it's easier to re-arrange things now than when you've almost finished your paper.
- For a standard research paper of 15-20 pages, your outline should be no more than four pages in length. It may be helpful as you are developing your outline to also write down a tentative list of references.
Four Main Components for Effective Outlines. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; How to Make an Outline. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Organization: Informal Outlines. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Organization: Standard Outline Form. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Outlining. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Plotnic, Jerry. Organizing an Essay. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reverse Outline. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Reverse Outlines: A Writer's Technique for Examining Organization. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Using Outlines. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.
The introduction opens the essay, its body provides several arguments supported by the credible evidence, and the conclusion ends up the essay by restating thesis and providing a summary. That is a general answer to the question, “how to write an outline for a research paper?” Learning how to write a detailed outline for a research paper is a more complex process. The article covers its main elements and provides valuable examples.
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How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper: Defining the Concept
How to write an outline for a research paper? The primary thing is to provide a clear definition. An academic project outline is an action plan a student prepares not to get lost during the process of writing, and this piece reflects the main points of the text. It is similar to the table of contents. The main goal of this writing element is to keep track of the author’s ideas, acting as a roadmap for content. Thanks to the fact an outline makes it possible to find links between various fields, the student succeeds with amalgamating and evaluating the work. It prevents a student from repeating his words.
An outline is a must when a student has to deal with a brief assignment of 1000 words or less. In case of a longer project, it is hard to imagine a successful writing process without any obstacles if the outline is missing. A student risks getting overwhelmed without a plan.
It is impossible to cope with a 10,000-word dissertation without learning how to write a detailed outline for a research paper. If the person writes an MLA 5-paragraph essay, the outline goes at the beginning. It is shorter than a table of contents and does not have to specify the number of pages. Once you are done with the draft, present the draft of an outline for a paper to the teacher to get feedback at the initial stage of work.
MLA Research Paper Outline Basics
How to write a thesis outline for a research paper using MLA? MLA is the simplest academic essay paper format established by the Modern Language Association. It is applied to the assignments written for the English Composition, History, Literature, and some other humanitarian classes.
Provide the main headings like ‘introduction’ and ‘Method’ is the upper-case Roman numerals, I, ii, iii, etc. If a student wants to break the major sections in the subsections, he/she should do that with the help of letters A, B as a next level, numbers 1, 2 as a 3rd level, and other ways to subdivide categories.
The primary MLA research paper outline is the draft. No need to include plenty of details when working on a draft but put the things in the correct order not to get lost in the middle of the writing process. An outline helps to determine the way a student will build other important sections such as Literature Review. Will it appear in chronological or alphabetical sequence?
Keep in mind these tips to come up with an outline using MLA!
- Students who apply Word or OpenOffice should check whether the different levels of the outline for research paper MLA (I, A, 1, a, i) match the headings in the Word processing software – Heading 1, etc. It will be easy to generate a table of contents based on such outline.
- Keep every draft of the outline to use it in case the previous one fails the mission.
- Read the detailed MLA writing guide before getting started. Check the instructor’s prompt twice to make sure MLA is what he/she needs from you (in other situations, a student may have to follow APA principles).
How to Write a Detailed Outline for a Research Paper?Have a look at the offered example of an outline for a research paper after observing the details.
A title/cover page is the shortest part of the project. The title should not be overlong and unwieldy, but it has to interpret the problem’s significance in a single sentence of no longer than 60 characters. Experts recommend titling the essay after the report is done. Check the possible alternative titles on the web – modern scientists have established various possible ideas in separate databases. Try to come up with the original name for your project.
Under the title, a student should include the following details:
- Writer’s name
- Name of supervisor
- Team members
If a student knows how to write a text’s summary, he/she should not find it difficult to come up with a good abstract. It occupies 1/3 of the A4 page (approximately 200 words). Provide a summary of the study, its results/findings, and conclusion. Make the reader believe the given paper contains the useful information on the relevant problem and matters for the development of science. Add a contents page if the prompt tells to do it.
Painstake the study into the background of the experiment. Put yourself in the shoes of the potential reader and think about why this person would be interested in reading about a particular problem from cover to cover. Share the history of the study based on other related studies conducted before. Explain the reasons for choosing the specific topic (examples) and doing a particular experiment; include the things you were expecting to find during the process. A hypothesis (thesis) statement should conclude the opening paragraph.
It makes sense this section talks about the methods (tools, equipment, approaches, and other sources) the scientists used to experiment. The main idea is that another study can replicate the experiments without the need to guess what equipment/technologies the authors applied. The research papers are peer-reviewed; other people may want to join the experiment.
For field study, a writer must provide accurate map references and include it in the appendix.
Results & Discussion
Scientists often mix these 2 sections. While one lists the findings, another one provides a clear interpretation of each of the offered results. Write a brief synopsis of several basic elements (facts, figures, and statistical exams) depicted in the Results. A raw data must go into the appendix. It is possible to include the tables, images, and graphs to explain the findings in-depth, but the detailed description of the visual elements should appear in the appendix. Number the visual elements to reference them in the end.
Seek to discuss the obtained results in the 2nd part of the combined section and tell whether they meet your expectations or not. Decide whether you managed to prove the offered hypothesis/failed to prove it. It is fine to mention the errors in the experiment design, calculation, approaches, technology usage – it is important to explain why the things might have gone wrong. The teacher wants to see this explanation to put a high score. A few experiments are 100% correct in their design.
A student has discussed the results by this section. In a conclusion, it is time to provide a summary of the findings, restate thesis, stress the value of the study, and share ideas for future experiments. It is an elaborate version of the abstract.
List the sources used throughout the work depending on the required research paper outline format (MLA, APA, AMA, etc.) check the in-text citations not to leave any without a corresponding reference. No need to describe the sources in details.
Research Paper Outline Format: List of Elements
Stick to the prompt. It will specify the length of the project (number of words/pages). Citations, references page, and appendix are things the instructors do not include in the required word count. Break down the main body of the paper into several sections to make it simpler to navigate during the process of writing.
The basic thing a student should keep in mind to understand how to write an outline for a research paper is the structure of this type of work. It has more sections than a typical essay.
- Title/Cover page (learn to choose the title)
- Table of contents (optional)
- Results & Discussion (R&D)
That is a simple research paper outline. It is time to have a look at each section in details to understand what they stand for.
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APA Outline Format
An APA outline format is a bit different from MLA. Before moving to the specific research paper outline example taken from the work of A+ student, it is important to memorize the general layout. Keep in mind the structure of APA outline format!
- Hook sentence
- Thesis statement
- Body Paragraphs
Free Research Paper Outline Example
What about APA research paper format, which is more popular than MLA in the world of science?
Example: “Writing Winning Admissions Essay Based on College Standards”
Select target colleges
- Attend & assess local campuses
- Attend & assess college websites
- Search for the interesting courses
- Mind important statistics:
- Student ration
- Retention rate
Get ready with application
- Come up with admissions essay
- Select engaging topic
- Discuss a person who influenced your life:
- Preferred high school teacher
- Family member
Discuss significant personal details like internship
- Revise admissions essay
- Compile resume
- Mention related coursework
- Talk about work experience
- List personal skills:
- Tutor at summer camp
- Counselor for high school bullying/violence prevention hotline
MLA or APA Research Paper Format – The Solution Is Close!
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